|"Bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim..." Pupils recite a surah at Taufiq Islamic School.|
After what has been undoubtedly the most difficult trip to Uganda I’ve ever taken part in, our last day in Kabale has finally come around. The previous morning’s work went a long way towards cleansing the bad memories of more turbulent moments on this visit.
It is Wednesday 11th April 2012 and I am walking down Johnstone Road towards Taufiq Islamic Primary School, for our second morning of activities. The sun has already ripped through the perennial sheet of mist and the dull whines of boda-bodas are already filling the air.
In contrast to yesterday’s welcome, we arrive to a silent yard. A solitary boy in the green and white hooped uniform peers from around the side of the mosque before shuffling off in a cloud of dust. All we need now is the stereotypical tumbleweed of an American Western film to roll across in front of us.
As we near the main school building Lule appears from within and accosts us. I ask him, “What have you done with all the children?”
His reply comes punctuated with his typical chuckle as, “They are waiting for you in assembly.”
He leads my small group of students and staff around the side of the mosque to where the ‘temporary’ wooden classrooms stand, and, sure enough, covering the dusty red yard like an expertly-woven Persian rug of emerald and cream, all the pupils of Taufiq stand awaiting our arrival.
With an extra day of familiarity between us the usual scenario of half of the pupils, especially the younger ones, starting to cry is avoided. One Somali student, who seems to have grown very popular amongst the pupils, is welcomed like a homecoming hero by many of the braver ones.
In the absence of a microphone, and from the height of our assembly ‘stage’, I introduce my students, pointing out for the benefit of all listening, who is a Muslim. As it dawns on the audience of children and adults from the local community that my group of bazungu aren’t actually that white and/or Christian – as many expect UK citizens to be – broad smiles wash across their faces.
Next comes the singing of the Ugandan national anthem, of which I know the words and choose to join in:
Oh Uganda! may God uphold thee,Following on from this some of the younger students demonstrate their knowledge of Islam for us by saying, “Bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim alhamdullilah hir-rabbil alamin…” before reciting a short surah from the Qu’ran.
We lay our futures in thy hands.
Together we’ll always stand.
|Pupils hard at work, writing letters to the UK.|
After a short break for the pupils of Taufiq to run around and talk to my students some more, we start on a letter writing task. Each Taufiq pupil, after a little guidance from my students, begins to write a short letter of introduction to a primary school pupil in the UK. The hope is, that until a more formal arrangement can be made involving the All Our Children (UK) charity, this could help to find a partner school for them.
Whilst they work, I take time to talk to Lule. This time his trademark chuckle is put by the wayside as we discuss the school’s finances. He shows me a list of students who are orphaned and then copies of individual files of the students, each with a photo attached.
The reality is, especially with the increases in living costs in Uganda, that his school is running low on funds to support the education of orphans. Indeed one of the biggest contributors to the financial upkeep of the school are the members of the local Muslim community, many of whom have very little money of their own.
As the letter-writing classes end, many of my students gather round and start to discuss the situation. We know that we don’t necessarily have any money of our own to help the school with, but we talk about how we could try and make small differences in other ways.
One immediate idea is raising money to redecorate the dormitories and hang mosquito nets. This would not only reduce the likelihood of pupils contracting malaria, but could also eradicate the costs incurred when a pupil needs treatment. Other students start discussing the idea of collecting resources at their mosques in the UK. Things such pens and paper, or at least the money for pens and paper. All small steps, but things that could be useful in the meantime.
By way of Epilogue
As we say our goodbyes on last time, we all have a lot of thinking to do. I feel satisfied that we have been able to finally connect with Taufiq Primary School and that we will be able to move our relationship forward, but my students’ concerns and passion to do more to help leaves me thinking we have so much to do.
Similarly, a part of me wonders whether, after all of the behind the scenes wrangling this year, I need a break from visiting Uganda. Am I actually affecting change? Does what I am a part of actually make a difference to anyone?
Deep inside, I know that I keep coming back because I’m not ready to give up on any of the projects I’m involved in and regardless of the personalities, within my own group of adults, this whole project is really about my students and the pupils in Kabale.
- Tomás Ó Ceallaigh. Kabale. April 2012